High in the Never Summer Mountains, Little Yellowstone canyon is a vestige of a volcanic eruption 28 million years ago and so named for its resemblance to the Grand Canyon along the Yellowstone River in Wyoming. A long and secluded hike in some of least-visited wilderness in Rocky Mountain National Park, its blanched slopes and rock spires are a spectacular destination along the way to La Poudre Pass and the headwaters of the Colorado River, or as an out-and-back destination of its own. This river valley, which includes Little Yellowstone, marks the beginning of the Colorado’s 1,400-mile journey from the Rocky Mountains to the Gulf of California.
Starting from the Colorado River Trailhead, follow the La Poudre Pass Trail as it meanders through beautiful meadows of the Kawuneeche Valley. Thanks to its lighter visitation relative to the eastern portions of the park, wildlife is more abundant here, with a better opportunity to see moose, elk, and bear than might be found in areas with more intense human activity. The broad clearings in the forest make for beautiful views of the valley and the surrounding Never Summer range. And the history of the valley, crumbing and decrepit, is richer and more alive than the commercialized areas near Estes Park.
Continue along the trail for about 2 miles, pausing at small spurs and overlooks to enjoy the bubbling course of the young Colorado and the grassy meadows along its banks. The trail courses in and out of the forest, rolling over small hills, and skirts the homestead of a fearless marmot. The Shipler cabins and their dilapidated cabin sites are nestled into the forest a little less than 2 miles in. Pause here to scour for wild raspberries that grow near the cabins’ remains.
Another mile down the trail is a junction. To the right the former site of Lulu City, once a bustling village of 200 during the mining boom in the late 19th century. While very little of the village remains, it is still a peaceful place to pause for a picnic, and anglers will find fruitful fishing here. To continue to Little Yellowstone, keep right. In 0.4 miles, keep right at a second junction, and in another 0.4 miles, keep right again. The trail rises sharply here, ascending through a washed out canyon filled with forest debris. Cross a bridge over Lulu Creek. After a sharp rise over a half mile, the trail will level out and open up into Little Yellowstone, which spans the next mile. Informal overlooks alongside the trail will give you the opportunity to awe over the unique geology of the area, and clearings along the chossy slopes provide a place to pause for a snack. The Grand Ditch and La Poudre Pass, and their long views, are within a mile’s hike.